‘Orji’s Housing Policy In Abia Is For Posterity’
BY LAOLU ADEYEMI
CHIEF Iheanacho Okezie Orji Commissioner for Housing in Abia state tells Laolu Adeyemi how he is bringing ownership of homes closer to civil servants in the state as well as his strategy in actualizing the bold and ambitious housing programme of the Theodore Orji Administration
Let’s start with your appointment as Housing Commissioner; what were the issues?
I don’t knock the past. I don’t write off my predecessors. Yet, when I assumed office here, one should note for the records that I met organisational, technical and commercial issues that posed challenges to the new administration. Luckily, I had, like every other commissioner, been required by His Excellency, Dr. T. A. Orji to produce a blueprint within 2 weeks of being sworn in. I queued behind that, and the first thing I did in combating the challenges was to evolve a game plan. I agreed with my Permanent Secretary, directors and senior staffs of the ministry on the need to have single point accountability for projects. The idea was to pick up an activity/project and have someone whose bread and butter will include coordinating the selected activities. It also meant that the ‘person responsible’ had to report back to a superior authority on progress, achievements and the problems affecting the delivery of the assignment. This is my definition of single point accountability. I have long noticed that worker morale has gone up with a heightened sense of involvement and responsibility. We established that some of the so-called developers had failed us in the past. They picked up Certificates of Occupancy and by the end of the day abandoned related projects, only to reposition themselves for another contract. The Amaokwe and Isieke Housing Estates suffered this fate. Here, related contracts were awarded and terminated by the state government at different times because the contractors/developers failed to fly. Well, the reasons upon investigation were multi-dimensional. Governor Orji has always been in a hurry to deliver and was indisposed to tolerate their non-performance.
So, effectively, we had a dearth of developers, non-professionals masquerading to be what they were not. They could not develop the property they promised to deliver to the state and the people. A solid professional who knows how the terrain works, hardly has a reason for non-performance. Yes, real developers do not have a reason for non-performance.
What did you put in place as your game plan?
My strategy as the Honourable Commissioner for Housing in Abia State is to deliver 250 houses in the next 12 months counting from my inception in office last July. The first batch of 30 houses planned for completion was ready as a Christmas bonus. Before the end of January another batch of 170 houses will be positioned for our one-year celebration. We will use this to assess the real market potential of the housing projects that we have packaged for the benefit of our people. It is, we believe, the only way to monitor the effectiveness of the strategies we have deployed to make homes available to the great people of Abia.
In actualizing this dream, we intend to build state of the art, affordable, functional houses.
What is your general evaluation of Abia’s Housing project?
Before you evaluate Abia’s housing project relative to other states, the federal government’s national housing units and what you call global standards or specifications, you have to take cognizance of the fact that we are coming from nowhere to somewhere to meet two basic challenges. Abia State has two major towns - Umuahia and Aba and relative to our neighbouring states, our resources are much lower either as internally generated revenues or as allocations from the federal purse. In the midst of all these, we are to deliver in three years, between. 2011 and 2015, what the wasted resources of decades of bad governance of the first era should have accomplished. We had over the years watched helplessly as our resources were deployed for the wrong ends—thanks to Ochendo for liberating Abia State. People have forgotten that at one time, Aba was a bastion of dirt and filth. Insecurity was the order of the day.
I am committed to the development of the Isieke Housing Estate. I promise you that that by the time we complete our ultra-modern secretariat, we shall be showcasing the best secretariat in the entire Southeast. The first wing of the secretariat will be roofed before the end of the year and in 2012 more than six ministries will be quartered in this secretariat complex. Our International Conference Centre will seat at least 3000 people in one go and includes mini-meeting room facilities and ample performing spaces.
On recall, when we returned from Owerri, we had our staff sitting in primary schools and commercial offices. The idea of the secretariat is to assemble everybody under one roof. Since the creation of Abia, this is the only time a secretariat is being built by Abia State government.
How far have you gone with your auditorium project?
Part of our mandate is the construction of the auditorium of the Abia State Teaching Hospital in Aba where work has commenced in earnest. We are also involved in the reconstruction and remodelling of the Customary Court of Appeal complex as well as the Abia House in Abuja that is being renovated. We are also renovating the existing secretariat, which we inherited from the federal government. Governor Orji has graciously approved the concept design for the new Government Station Layout that includes, but may not necessarily be limited to a new government house, the lodge, the Deputy Governor’s house and ancillary facilities and infrastructure.
What about the Osisioma Unity Garden?
In the case of the Osisioma Unity Garden, it is safe to assume that I inherited what you may call an abandoned project. Here, its 200 housing units have attained between 50 and 70 percent project completion, with so much debt accrued in the process. We reckon when completed, this housing complex will be a major development centre in Osisioma Ngwa. Yes, the project appears moribund but it will provide an arrowhead for a bigger, re-packaged project, giving us a larger volume of housing development. My vision is to make Umuahia, in co-operation with other Ministries, a capital city that would stand shoulder high above its contemporaries. My pre-occupation is not just the number of houses I will be attributed to have built but also the geometric symmetry of the houses with respect to overall planning of the city. I am looking at a modern Abuja type of development project unfolding, with a total of 4000 houses built at the end of the day.
I want to thank the governor whose vision and determination to make a difference in the lives of the people has brought us this far. The first batch of houses are three bedroom bungalows with decent finishing and affordable rates of less than N4 million for the populace and the civil servants in particular. Governor T. A. Orji has mandated that the terms must be generous and aimed at ensuring that the working population will smile and have something to remember his administration for a long time to come.
Part of the game plan is the completion of the building of the Amaokwe Housing Estate with 56 housing units, mainly duplexes, as well as the Amuba Housing Estate, the latter of which had been intended for Abia State House of Assembly legislators.
Has funding been a constraint?
I am happy because funding has not been a constraint in actualising the Housing dream, which is also my personal dream. I am well funded because these are key projects that will go a long way in redefining the achievements of this administration. I am steering what you may consider a key project of the administration and I am not constrained by funding limitations. Isieke Housing Estate is on course just like the others. The construction of the Abia State Teaching Hospital auditorium, Aba receives robust funding just like the Amaokwe Housing Estate, the Amuba Housing Estate and the Headquarters of the Customary Court of Appeal complex in Umuahia.
The funding issues relate mainly to non-payments by buyers/allottees. When we don’t get payments from allottees, our activities in other projects become limited, to the extent those funds are not realised. In Isieke, the super-structures of eight duplexes are nearing completion, while 10 others will be commenced before the end of the year.
How affordable are these homes meant for civil servants?
I am surprised you are asking that question. A three-bedroom bungalow finished with tiles, en-suite facilities for the master bedroom, and a toilet and bath shared by the other two bedrooms as well as a visitor’s convenience room, is obviously a give away at around N4million/unit. There is nowhere else this is happening.
To what extent have you involved the mortgage companies in this arrangement?
The mortgage companies have been arranged to be involved in this deal while the state government will guarantee the facilities. The current arrangements are professionally tidy and leave both parties - government and the mortgage companies happy. If we are able to pull through these healthy challenges in a decent competitive environment, then we can conveniently say that the TA Orji administration is responding positively to the yearnings of the people in the area of housing. Yes, we are looking at millions of Abians who are yearning for their housing needs to be met and going by that, one can say that the present projections are like a drop in the ocean, but we shall get there eventually, especially if succeeding administrations plug on to this bold step of carrying Abia State to the level in the housing arena. The millennium projection of housing for all is attainable if every administration can work slightly ahead of the achievements of its predecessor. Our dream here is to set the pace boldly and ambitiously.
Source: The Guardian, 14th January 2012.
The Abia security incentive
By Anayo Okoli
THERE is no gainsaying that the security situation in Abia State is one of the best in the country today going by reports available across the country.
This is not surprising going by the activities of the Major General Sylvester Andrew Audu-led anti-kidnapping outfit, Operation Jubilee, operating in the state to wipe out criminal elements, especially kidnappers and armed robbers.
One year ago, the state was no-go area because of insecurity. Kidnappers and other criminal elements had laid siege to the state. Indeed, Aba, the commercial city, was virtually under their control.
Residents fled, visitors shunned the city, business in the city crumbled. Nothing was working there. Literally, there was no life in Aba, the great Enyimba city. Abia was about turning to a pariah state as people, indigenes and visitors alike, avoided coming home or visiting. The situation was that bad.
Governor Theodore Orji was worried. Abia people were more worried. The situation seemed insurmountable. Orji took various measures, including mooting the idea of granting amnesty to the criminals.
The government set up camps in some parts of the state, and asked the criminal elements to drop their weapons at the camps and register their names preparatory to resettling them. But this failed and it became very clear, that these hoodlums never wanted to drop their criminal life.
Ultimately, Abia government, in collaboration with the Federal Government, invited the Audu [then a Brigadier General]-led troops to the state to flush out the hoodlums. The troop arrived in September 2010.
Few days into their operation, progress was made. Many of the hoodlums were rounded up. Those in the thick forests in the Ukwa and Ngwa areas of the state were also traced there by the soldiers who pursued them into the bushes. Life began to return to the state, especially Aba.
Those who fled returned and the city started bubbling again. Ever since then, Abia has enjoyed good security as the soldiers continue their patrol of the state with the assistance of other security agencies. Also, with the rehabilitation of the abandoned Ohafia Barracks, now re-named Goodluck Ebele Jonathan Barracks, the security situation in the state has become tighter.
The security network in Abia has, no doubt, created a conducive business environment. Expectedly, the state government has cashed-in on it to woo investors. On the strength of this, the government of Orji has been meeting with investors who have shown interest in doing business in the state, either alone or in partnership with the government.
The government has given the investors assurances that security is its number one guarantee and the governor has vowed to continue to give security priority in the state. He swore never to allow the state return to the dark days.
Following the assurances, some investors with interest in various fields have sent delegations to the state for feasibility studies while many others have indicated interest to come into the state to do business.
The foreign investors that have shown interest include Alkamali Petroleum, a Dubai based oil and gas company, said to be interested in investing in the oil and gas rich area of Ukwa West. The company said it would build a refinery in the area.
The chairman of the company, Sheik Badar Alkamali, paid a visit to the state during which he discussed other areas of opportunities and partnership between Abia and his company. Alkamali said the firm intends to expand and move its business to Nigeria.
In his remarks, the strategic partner of the company, Nassirdeen Yahaya Kwande, explained that they were searching for opportunities and had come to assess the opportunities in Abia and build on them.
Another investor plans to build a cement factory in Arochukwu area of the state. Also, a Malaysian company wants to invest in the oil palm plantation which the state is rich in. The government has also opened negotiations with a South African brewery to revive the moribund Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia, the state capital.
Only recently, an Irish company expressed interest to invest in the abundant quarry industry in Abia. Already, officials of the company, Quarry, Roads and Mining Unique Services Limited (QRM), have visited the state and held talks with the governor.
Welcoming the investors, Orji assured them of security and other incentives that would encourage them to do business in the state, saying the state was safe for investments. The governor told them that no investor would regret coming to Abia to do business because, according to him, “Abia people are hospitable and the environment conducive”.
Source: Vanguard, 18th December 2011.
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